Long time no blog. Sorry for the lack of posting in the last few weeks, but I do have a good excuse. I’m sure you won’t fault me for it.

In order to celebrate my completion of graduate school and achievement of my PhD, DH volunteered to take me on a very nice trip. We spent a lot of time figuring out where we wanted to go and when we would be able to go there. There has been a lot going on with finishing up my work and interviewing for jobs and this and that; however, we decided that if we waited for “just the right time” to go somewhere, we’d never end up going, because there just is never the perfect time. So we decided to go ahead and just book a trip and let the rest of everything going on happen around it.

There are many attractive and interesting destinations around the world, and we considered many different possibilities. However, in the end I decided that if I got to go anywhere, I wanted to go to Paris. I took so many years of French in high school and college and even excelled at it, and, though I’m quite rusty now, I’ve always had a desire to go to France and experience the culture about which I had learned for so long. Plus, traveling to an international destination was one of the biggest items on our 101-in-1001 lists, and we got to check that off!

Since we were planning to get the most out of this opportunity to cross the pond, we decided to take two entire weeks to travel over there. While I could happily spend two weeks in Paris, we decided to actually see some other sights while we were over there. We ultimately decided on a multi-city itinerary, connecting the cities by train.

We started off with six nights in Paris, where we rented an apartment just south of Gare du Nord and Montmartre. We purchased a Paris Museum Pass for six days. I very highly recommend this pass, which gives you entry into most of Paris’ main attractions (Eiffel Tower being the main exception) for two, four, or six consecutive days. You skip the ticket line just about everywhere and go directly in, saving significant time (though you will often have to stand in a security line regardless; can’t bypass that!). It also gave us entrance to a few sights we wouldn’t have thought to do before, plus, to be perfectly honest, we used it a couple of times for entrance to museums so we could use the facilities. However, these were at least educational and edifying potty breaks. 😉 I also highly recommend a good travel guide; I used the one by Rick Steves for both Paris and Rome and found it to be invaluable for suggestions on beating crowds, saving Euros, and walking about town.

With six days, we did pretty much everything we wanted to do in the city with a little time to be relaxed about it. However, that doesn’t mean we didn’t walk probably ten or fifteen miles every single day! My feet and back were complaining a bit, but we saw a lot of the town on foot. We did make strategic use of the Metro and suburban train system, too. Paris is really great about that. We covered all the big sites: the Louvre, Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame (including climbing the towers), Arc de Triomphe, a walking tour of Montmartre, the Orsay Museum, and more. We also discovered a number of smaller gems thanks to the Museum Pass and the travel guide.

Paris was probably my favorite destination, though I certainly enjoyed our other stops, too. I certainly hope to go back again one day! I’d also love to explore more of France outside the city.

My favorite view of Notre Dame….I like big buttresses and I cannot lie.

Eiffel Tower by night…and I did go all the way to the top!

One of the many ornate bridges across the Seine.

After our stint in Paris, we caught a train to Zurich. We overnighted there before a train through the Alps over Gotthard Pass into northern Italy, but we enjoyed our time walking around the old town and feeding swans and ducks by the lake. We also purchased lots of chocolate, though we were a bit disappointed to not find any actual chocolatiers in town. We had really wanted to do fondue while we were there, but despite lots of research and investigation, we just couldn’t come up with a plan to work for our one evening there. Plus, it’s not really fondue season just yet.

Old town Zurich on the Limmat River.

Duck….duck…..swan!

Our scenic train trip through the Alps was an intentional destination in our itinerary, and it was really awesome to see, even if just through a train window. That unfortunately didn’t make for very nice pictures to show you.

After a train switch in Milan, we headed to Venice for two days. Venice is such an interesting city; while there are some interesting sights there, like the Doge’s Palace and San Marco’s Basilica, Venice itself is the most interesting sight. Our experience there was particularly “interesting” because of our lodging. The landlady at the bed and breakfast didn’t speak any English (her husband did, but he was evidently out of town), and for some reason this destination was fraught with a handful of small hiccups. However, after much gesturing and nodding, everything turned out just fine; we had a nice place to stay, and made it to our final destination without further incident.

A typical canal in Venice.

After that, we topped off our trip with four days in Rome. We rented a nice apartment literally steps from the Vatican Wall and museum entrance. In the Eternal City, we invested in a Roma Pass, which gave us two free entrances to sights, but we found it to be worth it particularly for the metro and bus pass. By this point we were exhausted from walking across three countries (four if you count the Vatican), and we used every opportunity to ride the metro there. I can’t count how many times we transferred at Termini station. But otherwise, Rome was very walkable, maybe even moreso than Paris.

The Colosseum

Rome is such an old and interesting city. We saw ancient sights and “modern” Baroque buildings literally side-by-side. We also were very excited to have the unique opportunity to see the Vatican Museum on Friday evening. They open late on Fridays a few months out of the year, so we reserved our spot ahead of time and completely beat the enormous lines that we saw every single day there. We also went to St. Peter’s Basilica and climbed to the top of the dome, which was a bit claustrophobic and nerve-wracking but worth the effort. And the church itself is just enormous beyond description.

View from the very top of the cupola of St. Peter’s.

Admiring the dome of the Pantheon

We flew home from Rome after 14 days of traveling. All in all, it seemed like a pretty good division of time between cities, though we’d like to actually see more of Switzerland another time. We also enjoyed the experience of train travel, though arranging four separate tickets did get a bit tricky on the front end. But the time I invested in carefully planning our itinerary, travel, and lodging seemed to pay off with few, minor hiccups along the way.

We got back on Tuesday night, and we were absolutely exhausted! We pretty much walked everywhere, with modest support from metro and buses. DH came home a little sick, and I’m still a little tired and having a hard time not waking up too early. But it was still a lot of fun. My parents came to house sit and watch the dog for us, which was great. They enjoyed a mini-vacation away from home, and we didn’t have to worry about our pup getting lonely or in trouble. I think it worked out well for everyone.

So now we’d just trying to get back to normal, though “normal” is not a word that is really describing our life at the moment. If our two-week trip to Europe was big, then what happened when we got back was totally epic. I’ll have to tell you all about that next time.

P.S. A special thanks to my followers who are travel bloggers and francophiles whose adventures inspired me on my trip! Bon voyage!

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